Berkeley City Council Slashes Police Budget 50% – No More Traffic Stops

Riot police form a blockade during a rightwing No To Marxism rally on August 27, 2017 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Berkeley, California. / AFP PHOTO / Amy Osborne (Photo credit should read AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images)
AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images

The city council in Berkeley, California, on Wednesday voted for radical changes for policing the community, including slashing the budget by 50 percent and pulling cops off the traffic beat.

The 8-0 vote, including one abstention, also removes police from homeless and mental health responses, funds an independent analysis of police calls, and creates a “community safety committee” to implement the changes.

“These measures shared the same urgency and spirit, but had different mechanisms for achieving it,” Councilman Ben Bartlett, who supported the measures, said in a San Francisco Chronicle report on the meeting. “There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen for reimagining public safety.”

Berkeley is one of a number of cities that are joining the defund the police movement fueled by the death of George Floyd, who died while in police custody in Minneapolis in May. All four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest have themselves been arrested and charged.

The Chronicle reported on the result of the council meeting, which lasted into the wee hours of Thursday morning:

[Councilwoman Cheryl] Davila started off Tuesday’s meeting by submitting a motion for an unplanned vote of no confidence in Police Chief Andrew Greenwood.

At a June council meeting, when asked about how the Police Department responds to Black Lives Matter protesters, Greenwood said, “Firearms. We can shoot people. If you are being attacked with lethal force, if we don’t have less-lethal that can drive it back, then we’re absent a tool. That’s my concern. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic and I apologize.”

In her motion, Davila called the comments “not merely a gaffe, but inexcusable.” The motion did not receive a second council member’s support to come up for a vote. A rapid succession of public speakers admonished the council for failing to consider the motion.

U.C. Berkeley law Professor Franklin Zimring called the reforms a “wish list” that would incur significant costs, the Chronicle reported.

“What would be unprecedented is not the nature of the wish list, or even its magnitude, but whether it happens at any scale close to the numbers flying around in policy conversations in a lot of cities right now,” Zimring said.

“Personnel costs, Zimring noted, take up the vast majority of police budgets, so any cuts would require protracted and costly renegotiations with police departments and their unions,” the Chronicle reported.

“It’s an iron law of public employee negotiations that those kinds of transitions cost money,” Zimring said. “Fifty percent is the end of a very, very, very long rainbow.”

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